A recital of violins playing worldwide acclaimed Cuban and international songs creates the right atmosphere while about a thousand spectators come in and seat at their tables. Such number of people decides on a daily basis to enjoy the famous show of Tropicana Cabaret, ranked in the global top ten.
Visitors’ eyes remain wide open so they don’t miss the slightest detail of the mythical facility that has the sky and the stars as a roof, flanked by a forest of upright royal palm trees, laurels and fruit-bearing trees.
In that moment of initial anticipation, the orchestra and the choir intone the theme that identifies the cabaret, while about 100 dancers and extras take position all over the stage. Meanwhile the chorus goes: “Tropicana, empress of the verse / Tropicana, sultana of the dreams / Tropicana, queens around the world / Giant made history / Sublime temple of the heights / Tropicana, Tropicana.
The real wonderful of the night begins with a frenzy of fantasy and luxury, lights, color, costumes, dances, mobile dance floors, aerial ramps, water cascades, catwalks and the infectious Cuban music.
“Drums in Concert” is the name of the current show that has been on for seven successful years, under the artistic and choreographic direction of master Tomas Morales, National Dance Award. “Since almost all Cuban music uses drums, we decided to pay tribute to the drums. Most of the show themes are marked by drum beats”, he explained to Radio Cadena Habana.
The idea is an ode to the drum through Cuban music. Dancers go out with drums in their hands and dance with them, while songs of Rafael Espin, Ondina Mateo, Juan Almeida, Guillermo Fragoso and a Bobby Carcasses’ guaguanco-blues are heard, all arranged by Horacio Gonzalez and Gilberto Valdes.
The show, always with Cuban music, tells the tale of an African legend taken to international language. It is about a princess and a prince of different families that love each other, in spite of the opposition and disapproval of their respective tribes. Both lovers die tragically, in each other’s hands.
About 50 productions have been on stage during the 72 years of existence of this famous cabaret. Some have toured the world and the autochthonous music of the Island has always been at their very core.
Through the years, Tropicana Orchestra was conducted by maestros Armando Romeu, Norman Milanes, Francisco Garcia Caturla, Horacio Gonzalez, Demetrio Muñiz, and Guillermo Fragoso in the last years.
One of the cornerstones in the great pyramid of success of this cabaret was Roderico Neyra, aka Rodney. He was one of the greatest Cuban choreographers of all times and stood out for his creative artistic conduction of the show.
Other prominent directors, like Joaquin M. Condall, Amaury Perez, Tomas Morales and Santiago Alfonso have continued this creative work that has been going on for more than half a century.
The list of Tropicana shows is lengthy. From the 50’s, we remember “Congo Panther”, “Siboney” and “El Manisero”, with Sergio Orta’s choreography and featuring Rita Montaner, Bola de Nieve, Chano Pozo, Cascarita, Carmita Ortiz and Julio Richard.
“Romans were this way” (1972) was one of the most successful Tropicana super productions, with the vibrant rhythm of “The Bejucal Drums.” It was directed by Joaquin M. Condall, the scriptwriter was Enrique Nuñez Rodriguez’s and it featured Carlos Montezuma, Regla Becerra, Omara Portuondo, Marta Strada, and the orchestra was conducted by Rey Montesinos.
“I have seen important places in Paris, as the Lido and Moulin Rouge, and Las Vegas, in United States”, commented Tomas Morales. “Yet, nothing compares to Tropicana. Before, later and now, Cuban music prevails and spreads all over the luxuriant forest with the show’s splendor, fancy costumes, great musicians and singers and models with hats of unthinkable size and beauty. They all contribute to create the legend of our cabaret.”
The acclaimed dancer and singer believes there is some sort of Tropicana style, because “although modernity brings along technical changes and new musical genres emerge, Cuban music is always at the core”, with Orlando de la Rosa, Rafael Vergaza, Margarita Lecuona and Gilberto Valdes’ songs.
As for the choreography, he pointed out, “Choreographies are gradually getting closer to the modern stuff, albeit keeping its Cuban roots without undistorted. People like the songs when they sound Cuban. It all depends on the arrangements, on the background music.”
Tomas Morales recalled an anecdote when he produced his choreography “Now” and the star of the show was Cuban singer Omara Portuondo. She sang the song of the same name, which was a great international hit in US singer Lena Horne’s voice.
“In the premiere – he said – the audience burst into applause. It was the first time I saw something like this in the premiere of a show and the picture still lingers in my mind. It was a show with its justification. We came up with the idea of having the dancers dress like Cuban aborigines in a plot of rebellion and “Now” expressed precisely that. It had the Cuban and the foreign traits. In that moment, the music and lyrics of the song reflected part of our rebelliousness experiences.”
Two decades ago, the flag cabaret of Havanan nights received the “Best of the Five Stars Diamond” award, which US Academy of the Catering Industry confers to the best cabaret in the Americas.
Cuban stars like Rita Montaner, Esther Borja, Elena Burke, Xiomara Alfaro, Farah Maria, Armando Bianchi, Rosita Fornes, Merceditas Valdes, Bola de Nieve, Chano Pozo, Celina and Reutilio, Ramon and Coralia Veloz and the Sisters Lago have performed in Tropicana stage.
World-class artists, acclaimed by the most demanding publics of all the times, like Nat King Cole, Josephine Baker, Carmen Miranda, Libertad Lamarque, Liberace, Cheo Feliciano, Joan Manuel Serrat, Pedro Vargas, Carmen Miranda, Alejandra Guzman, and the legend of black music, Sarah Vaughan, have also shined in Tropicana.
In its lifetime, three themes have been written for this place of music, fantasies and exotic splendor. The first was written by composer Alfredo Brito, the second by Olga Navarro and Meme Solis and the third by Ondina Mateo (lyrics) and Rafael Espin. The latter belongs to the show “Drums in Concert.”
Before the mythical night is over, here is the melody that identifies the only “Paradise under the stars” of the world.
“Multicolored woman of a thousand dreams,
You bewitch, you grace, you seduce,
As time goes by, it only makes you younger,
Intoxicating the muses with your scent
Poetry lives in your foliage,
The moon in bloom kisses,
The jealous fog leans to discover
Your magical beauty
Tropicana, empress of verse,
Tropicana, sultana of dreams,
Tropicana, queens around the world,
Giant made history,
Sublime temple of the heights,
The music, the orchestra, the singers,
The lights, the dancers, the artists,
They seduce the visitor with their charm
Leaving their heart on the dance floor
Tropicana empress of the verse,
Tropicana sultana of the dreams,
Tropicana queens around the world,
Giant made history,
Sublime temple of the heights,
By: Nancy Lescaille
Translated by: Pedro A. Fanego